Demographic change and extended working lives mean that maintaining employability has become a valuable asset in the world of work. The importance of rehabilitation strategies in achieving this is shown in an EU-OSHA report.

IW – 02/2017

In view of demographic developments, it is to be expected that the ageing workforce will increase. Not all workers will be able to continue performing their current job until the age of retirement.  

Increasing importance of rehabilitation

Rehabilitation and workplace reintegration (return to work) should therefore be given greater weighting in the national social security systems in order to improve employability, particularly for older people or people with disabilities, because it is the providers of social insurance who bear the main financial burden of failed efforts to maintain and restore employability.  

The European Parliament and the European Commission have also acknowledged the importance of effective rehabilitation and reintegration strategies in the context of demographic change. They commissioned the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao (EU-OSHA) to examine the topic in more detail. This was done through a study titled “Rehabilitation and return to work: analysis report on EU policies, strategies and programmes” which investigated the rehabilitation strategies in the 28 EU Member States and the 4 European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. One of the aims of the study was to identify success factors for effective and sustainable rehabilitation and workplace reintegration systems.  

Possible success factors

The authors concluded that early intervention for rehabilitation and return to work has a positive impact on a person’s capacity to work. In addition, a coordinated, holistic approach that includes all stakeholders in the process as well as good communication between employer and worker at the start of sickness absence both increase the chances of successful reintegration. The study also highlights the importance of inclusive systems which have rehabilitation and return to work services that are directed at all workers.  


The study also refers to best-practice programmes including two examples from the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (DRV). One of these is the integration project “RehaFuturReal®” initiated by the Westphalian branch of the DRV in 2011. It is a proactive rehabilitation system to reintegrate workers back into the workplace following an illness or disease. The German social accident insurance system provides employers with financial assistance to help return people to work, even if the worker involved has not been officially recognized as disabled. As a rule, they cover the costs of a three-month trial employment period, which gives the employer the opportunity to assess the worker’s capacity and performance, as well as any necessary adjustments to the workplace. 


The full EU-OSHA report can be viewed online here. 

The country inventories can be viewed online here. 

What happens next at European level?

The authors are of the opinion that rehabilitation and return to work should also be given greater importance at European level.  


At EU level, rehabilitation and return to work strategies have not been at the forefront; however, they seem to be growing in importance. Thus, in commissioning the study, the European Commission and the European Parliament have taken a significant step towards paying more attention to the issue in the future. Including rehabilitation and reintegration into the EU Occupational Safety and Health Strategic Framework 2014-2020 is also a step in this direction. Furthermore, in its draft proposal on a European Pillar of Social Rights , the EU Commission mentions reintegration and rehabilitation as prerequisites to enabling people to return to work quickly. Finally, the study calls for employers to be more actively involved in re-training and workplace adaptations.  


In the past, the European Parliament has also repeatedly advocated the promotion of rehabilitation programmes. In its resolution of 25 November 2015 on the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020, MEPs called on the Member States to promote rehabilitation and reintegration measures for older workers.